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Thursday, June 28, 2012

10 things I never thought would keep me from writing...until I had kids.


Need a laugh? Here are ten things I never thought would keep me from writing...until I had kids:


1)   Laundry. What the hell? I used to pile laundry to the ceiling of my dorm room. I used to buy new underwear rather than washing my clothes. Now? I am stuck on how to get a character out of a diner and into a conversation with a cousin in a forest, so I run a delicates cycle and actually bother to air-dry the stupid things. Pathetic. And who are all these people in my house that need clean clothes all the time? You're just going to wipe pizza on them. Sigh.
2)   Eating. Gone are the days when I would look up from typing having missed two meals. Now, I’ve just finished a salad and already considering a dinner menu. Yes, this has to do with how long it will take me to cook for myself, my picky husband and our two kids, but still. Gaack. 
3)   Shame. Hello! I once published a piece of erotic fiction from the point of view of a stalker! I won an international horror competition about adults gouging out kid eyes on playdates! So why am I all of a sudden squeamish when I see a post-it note that says the next scene will be “Mason kills a small animal out of curiosity.” What am I afraid of? Prophecy? No: every time I write a scene where a kid acts horrific, I have a brief flash of fear that my own kids will wave the passage as justification for their own horrific actions. Repeat after me: just because I wrote it doesn’t make it right.
4)   The clock. Oh crud. School ends in four minutes. Guess that’s the end of that scene until tomorrow. Sound familiar?
5)   Other people’s vomit. The crazy stomach-flu that’s been going around for three weeks and has hit hard. Maybe I can manage a sentence between cleanups and carrying pedialyte to the sick room.
6)   Whining. Yes. This is a big one. It’s not that my kids are whining AT me. It’s that they’re whining NEAR me. It’s very hard to get a thought onto the page when someone is telling someone else how unfair life is. How do lawyers ever get any work done?
7)   Social Media (okay this isn’t a parenting thing) but really? I am somehow able to tell my friends I’m too busy to go to a quick lunch with them, but unable to keep myself from checking out the photos they told me they just posted on FB of our kids playing together on the beach. That’s just…sad. Just wait until the kids are old enough that I have to check up on THEIR statuses. Yeah, that’s going to be productive.
8)   Field trips. Why why why do I keep chaperoning these things? Five hours of which three are spent on a school bus trying to get kids to stop throwing paper. One more hour is spent in various lines, moving kids from a door where we will patiently wait for a teacher to do the requisite paperwork, and then, finally, one half hour is spent on learning something about pilgrims or birds. Plus half an hour of bagged lunch. Why?
9)   Exhaustion. Expected the baby years to be rough, but shouldn’t I have caught up on sleep by now? Why is it so physically and mentally draining to say “guys, can you keep it down” sixty times a day? Shouldn’t I be on autopilot by now, just breezing through discipline? Not. They are finally in bed, tears dried, and teeth brushed, and instead of productive time, I stare at my writing and wonder if the mom in the story shouldn’t be a little bit nicer every once in a while, maybe take the kid out for ice cream.
10)                 And finally: Parasites. Really – school is like a third world country. Lice, pinworms, hoof-and-mouth or is it hand-and-mouth disease…random contagions I’d never even heard of until the green Xerox came back from the school warning me a kid in my kid’s class has __(insert creepy sounding condition)___. And each condition becomes a pandemic that sweeps every grade and every kid in every class. And requires hours and hours of medication, care, and probably…laundry.

So there it is. That’s my list. What’s yours?


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Creating a writing group for parents


How cool that I'm hitting on a trend - day after I posted about writing groups, THIS appeared by an NYC agent!


Some people asked about creating your own writers group. Yes—absolutely possible. Easiest is to be the only person with kids in the group, but that can get depressing – everyone else is happy to read 100 pages to finish a manuscript, while you have to go to a PTA meeting with Quentin’s teacher, and then the next day you have to take Francelia to her one-year Pediatrician appointment. Harold comes down with a two-day stomach bug, and there goes your reading time. It’s far easier to schedule non-parents (except the ones that travel a lot for work)—on a regular basis.

But like I said, a writing group is your community. It’s nice to have people in it who actually “get” your writing issues.

If you know two or three other writers that have kids, see if they would be interested in a trial writing group. This is a great option for single parents. If the kids are little, you can even do it during the day – just jointly hire a babysitter to look after the kids, and remember to keep an ear out (or set up a signal – a bell or something will do) so that kids don’t walk in on writerly conversation that might not be appropriate for them to hear. You have to be very free and open in a critique session. Voices can get raised, and if you’re really pushing the boundaries in your writing, the topics can get inappropriate for young ears – I’m not even talking about sex or violence. I’m talking abuse, lying, suicide, abandonment …the big ideas that inhabit serious literature of all genres is not something a four year old need to be asking about.

Other parents that are writers have formed groups that meet in various homes after bedtime. Sometimes this means sitter, often it means hero-spouses who not only have to deal with “girls/boys night out” but also “writer’s night” – because this is your career, your writing group counts as a business outing. Yes it does. Even if you like the people in your group and are friends with them. This is not you going out and getting hammered – so save the wine for AFTER critiques. Keep the crit session to a certain allotted time and keep it serious. This is your career. Don’t waste it talking about which school your kids got into.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing Groups



SO, writing groups. What are they and how can you get one?

Writing groups are a little like a workshop without a teacher. Of course, the easiest way to get feedback on your work is to sign up for a writing workshop (or if you are just starting a career, a writing class.) Thing is, workshops cost money. Always. And parents don't always have an extra $300-$1000 lying around. 

Sorry, just made myself choke on my coffee. the things I would do with an extra grand...

Anyway, writing groups. These groups of 3-8 writers make a professional commitment to meet on a regular basis and to read and critique each other’s work. Some groups are small enough that everyone gets read every single week. Most take turns—some allow one writer to have a whole book critiqued, some have a maximum number of pages. Many writing groups are online - you submit and crit via Yahoo groups or some other private message board option. Even Facebook Groups can be set up to accommodate, especially if people use Google Docs to share MS pages. 

Regardless of the format: if it is a well-run group, there will be guidelines, the people will be vetted in some way, and the critiques will be presented in some kind of orderly manner. My group is in-person, meets every other week (because we all have jobs and/or families) and all of us are published and or award-winning writers. You are never “too good” for a writing group – though you may want to leave after a while once you internalize the representative critiques. 

Or once you have a professional editor who is waiting for your pages.

Writing groups give you a connection to your readers, so chose wisely: if you write romance novels don’t join a writing group of men writing historical nonfiction. You want a supportive group that “gets” what you write. That is hungry for it. You also want the other writers to be well-read in your field, and hopefully, at least one of them will have actual editing experience and be able to catch the grammatical and spelling errors which spellcheck has missed. The critiques of your peers will definitely improve your writing, but what’s possibly even more important to parents – the deadline for needing to submit something to the group can keep you motivated when everyday life drains your very will to live. Wait, did I say that aloud? I meant, when everyday live makes it difficult to feel creative.

If you live outside of an urban setting or university town, it can be a little harder to find a group that will be suitable, but check industry publications for groups seeking new members. People do get publishing contracts and leave groups all the time—look for postings on bulletin boards, in church bulletins, anywhere. Make sure you interview the group first (and don’t be a pompous prick, no one likes a stuck-up writer) to ensure your personalities mesh.

If in-person critiquing isn’t possible given your situation, find an online group. There are many. These groups often form privately after attending a colony or conference together, or after graduate school. In general, going to a colony or taking a class, really any writing class will do, can give you the energy boost you need to get yourself back on the horse and in your creative space. A lot of time, all we need is a readership and the ideas flow like magic.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Get Motivated


I am in a creative slump right now. Not because I have no ideas; I have plenty. I also have two kids in school giving me enough time to write, should I wish to do so. Tell me then, what’s the hideous sluglike thing wrapping itself around my brain and slowing me down? Is it laziness? Old age? Parenthood?

I think it might be a lack of outside approval.

From the beginning, as writers, we are taught to appreciate our readers. The first “book” most writers write is something on construction paper with marker and crayon, bound by yarn or Elmer’s glue. This “first book” gets passed around the house, becoming legendary, and we as writers, secretly love the indirect attention.

Fast forward a few decades. Our kids get pop-up book kits and we shower them with praise when they create their first finished masterpiece. We hang every picture on a magnetic surface and laud the story that gets told to accompany it. But what is feeding our own inner need for praise? Certainly not the dozens of rejection slips that appear in our email inbox every week. And that’s for those of us who are actually sending out work!

How often do adult writers get praise, or even feedback? More often than not, I get more praise-per-hour for making a good dinner than for actually publishing a story.  But we can’t stop writing. Not if we really are writers at heart.

So how do we get that necessary feedback until we have an agent to harass? Apart from constantly sending out stories and hoping one will hit – that goes without saying. But there IS something active you can do.

Join a writing group: most serious writers belong to a writing group, at least for a while. Next time, I’ll give you specifics on what I mean and how you can go about finding a group of your very own. My writing group is my lifeline – without them I think I would have given up long ago. Not because I don’t think I’m great – but because it’s so much easier to spend an hour baking a cake and having three people shower me with gratitude, joy and appreciation, than to spend six hours working on a transition that still isn’t working quite right.

Don't become a housekeeper. You're a writer. Write. If you need feedback, find someone to give it to you. Out in the boonies? Visit our website: www.penparentis.org and listen to a few published authors (their readings are free) who have kids. They have only kind words for you - feel the community you are in. We support you.